Blue Ridge Parkway: A Van Lifer’s Paradise

Like I said in my last entry, THIS is the sort of van life I signed up for. The Blue Ridge Parkway has continued to deliver that. It’s wonderful to drive quiet roads in good condition, through amazing scenery that makes us go WOW 10 times a day, with the ability to stop at any overlook we want to spend a night without fear of law enforcement telling us to leave. We’ve spent three nights like this so far with no problems at all. We’ve even met some other van lifers doing exactly the same thing. There’s only been one problem, which I’ll get into later.

We rolled into Asheville, picked up our mail (thanks, Rowan!), and had dinner at Zen Sushi (thanks again, Rowan, for the recommendation). Then we restocked our groceries at the nearby Ingles. The idea was that once restocked, we wouldn’t have to leave the BRP for days. Unfortunately, it was nearly dark by the time we returned to the BRP (even on the longest day of the year), so we had to scramble a bit to find an overlook with data reception. Fortunately, we found one just before dark — and the thunderstorm.

We got treated to amazing natural fireworks that night as a thunderstorm rolled through. Sometimes it lit up the surrounding hills and valleys. Other times we saw bolts of lightning streak across the sky. We even saw one cloud-to-ground bolt light up for a full two seconds, further disproving that lightning never strikes the same place twice. It was a great show. The rain calmed down to a dull roar for the night. We shut the windows, turned off the fan, and called it a night.

The next day we put in several hours of work. In the late morning, a huge crowd gathered near us, but they weren’t looking at us. They were looking at the bears two trees over from us.

It seems that the cub decided to go for a climb, and momma bear followed to try and coax it back down again. We gathered up Lister, closed ourselves in the van, and watched — for hours. Despite the short distance between us as the crow flies, there was a steep descent right next to us, adding to the height and distance the bears had to climb to get to us. Plus, we were very clearly not a threat to them, so momma bear left us alone. (It’s a morbid thought, but all the people milling about the parking lot with no respect for wild animals in their natural habitat would’ve been targets long before we were.) By the time we were ready to leave in the mid-afternoon, the bears had finally started descending the tall tree, but the cub was still reluctant to follow.

We continued down the road through the Pisgah National Forest. The scenic mountain vistas morphed into tree-covered roads, with occasional overlooks and clearings. Our mission at this point was to find an overlook where we could spend the night, that had data so we could work that evening and the next morning, and as a stretch goal, a bathroom. We hit two out of three (except the bathroom) at the Deer Lick Overlook. I could clearly see the town of Nebo, NC, ten miles away from us, as well as the green hills still within the National Forest. Cell signal was a bit iffy, but we found a place to park where we could get three bars on our phones. I edited this week’s video, and Trisha got prepared for a new job. Then we slept undisturbed for the night, in part because I’d brought our blanket out of storage for the cool temperatures we were experiencing.

Unfortunately, all that planning to have data the next day was for nothing. What worked last night didn’t work this morning, as neither of us were able to do anything online. We were forced to pack up, drive, and look for signal once again. We ended up punting to leaving the BRP and going to a library in Spruce Pine, NC, with a very steep parking lot entry. The motorcycle carrier scraped badly upon entry. I had no choice but to continue forward, or risk doing more damage in reverse. In the mirror I saw parts of my tail light on the ground.

The damage is bad, but could be worse. The light is still attached and working. The LEDs themselves are red, not white, which means that technically the light is still legal. Even better, I was able to reassemble all of the pieces I picked up and put the light back together again, lens and all. I’ll just pick up some red lens tape at an auto parts store to help keep it together even better. Ironically, after all that hassle, the library WiFi was unusable, but at least my hotspot had no trouble connecting. We spent the rest of the working day there.

Since we’re in town anyway, we can pick up a few things. I finished my beer, so there’s room to put more in the fridge. There’s an auto parts store on the way out of town, so I can pick up the lens tape, a 12v outlet to replace the one under the passenger seat that seems to have died, and an air conditioning recharge kit since the van’s is blowing pretty weak these days. Then we’ll get back on the BRP and resume Smokey Trek III: The Search for Signal.

The lack of reliable cellular data is the only problem we’re having with this journey. It’s a big one, since now we’re both working. I’ve been reading Mobile Internet Resource Center for some time, and finally paid for a membership to gain full access to their information resources. We clearly need to improve our setup, currently consisting only of a Verizon hotspot that gets throttled after 30GB in a month (of course I’m on the most restrictive of all the “unlimited” carriers), plus our phones. Rather than complaining, I spent some time today researching our options, both as far as plans and equipment are concerned. This will be the next significant upgrade to the van. We both need it, especially since we’re both working and don’t want our travels to be limited by not finding usable data.

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